On August 19th, 2013 m’lady and I spent the early afternoon romping through large-scale blown glass wonders at Seattle’s wonderful Chihuly Garden and relaxing over a drink or two atop the iconic Space Needle that towers above it. With much time to kill before our host and good friend Evil was done with his workday m’lady and I took a few steps through a sunny day from the Needle to the entrance of EMP, the house that Hendrix built.
Al Hendrix that is. Al was Jimi’s father and after winning an extensive legal battle over his son’s legacy he established the Experience Music Project museum in Jimi’s hometown* in a building designed and built by famed architect Frank Gehry.
The structure itself is a metalwork monstrosity of impossible bends and curves. A monorail runs right into the place, disappearing into the steel folds and dropping tourists at the ticket booth. While interesting in its sheer uniqueness the building doesn’t suggest any sort of obvious meaning or direction, none that I could ascertain anyway. Certainly there was nothing music-related in the design itself which seems like a missed opportunity to me.
We walked in, purchased tickets and asked where we should start. “Just go anywhere you want,” I was told with a shrug and the lackadaisical wave of a teenaged hand.
Inside we found a fragmented collection of collections, a series of mini-museums that had little in common with one another and no obvious flow between them. Even the mini-collections themselves had little or no progression within them. Usually you walked into a room scattered with items and that was it. The place was in dire need of a curator.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it. They definitely had some cool items in the collection(s). In the Science Fiction Gallery they had Captain Kirk’s chair from the deck of the Enterprise and one of Data’s suits, Yoda’s cane and a few other nifty things. The Horror Museum was stacked with ghoulish masks and props including the “Slaughtered Lamb” pub sign from American Werewolf In London, the only thriller I’ve seen all the way through (except for that one scene that I always close my eyes for). I was enthralled by the handwritten corrections in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings manuscripts and the original draft from Bram Stoker’s Dracula in the Fantasy Gallery.
But like I say, these amazing artifacts were thrown together without any cohesive narrative whatsoever. The only time we got a hint that there was even supposed to be some sort of flow involved was when we would discover that the utter lack of signage and logistical momentum to the building had led us to walk through several of the collections backwards.
But lest you think there was nothing musical or Jimi Hendrix-y about Experience Music Project, there was:
Probably the single coolest thing in the building was a wonderful sculpture made out of guitars that stretched to the ultra-high ceiling and emanated an eerie arrangement of Hendrix’s If 6 Was 9 at the push of a button. This was just outside a large room that celebrated Jimi’s early career in London, featuring a couple of stage-smashed guitar fragments and plenty of drymounted blowups of newspaper articles and magazine accolades. This room turned out the only one in all of EMP that contained items related to Seattle’s first rock superstar.
At the time EMP was hosting a temporary exhibit honouring Seattle’s second rock superstar with a hallway lined in old Polaroids of Kurt Cobain and early Nirvana. Something I learned at this exhibit: Kurt’s name was initially spelled: “Kurdt”.
Upstairs were my two favourite features of Experience Music Project. 1) A temporary exhibit dedicated to Women In Rock with rare items and artifacts filling several rows of display cases that were chronological, well-labelled, and highly informative, and 2) an interactive area comprised of soundproof rooms full of musical instruments all wired up and ready to go. M’lady and I had a blast playing electronic drums and distorted guitars over top of blaring backing tracks.
I don’t know who was curating the second floor, but whoever it was they should’ve been working downstairs too.
Overall EMP was like walking through a huge Hard Rock Cafe without the benefit of having a beer in your hand. Essentially it’s a collection of disengaged memorabilia, a museum of randomness with little interest in educating their clientele.
Still a good time. Though they should definitely have more Hendrix stuff. I mean, c’mon now.
*Did you know that Jimi Hendrix was half-Canadian? Yep; his dad Al was born and raised in Vancouver. Al lived there until he was in his twenties, moving to Seattle just a year or two before his famous son was born. Matter of fact, Jimi spent quite a few summers staying with his grandparents in Vancouver when he was a kid. So yeah, Jimi Hendrix was from Seattle but he was that close to being a Canuck.